For the last year I have been an advocate for the unbanning of Jace, The Mindsculptor. I was adamant that Jace would be safe to unban to increase the power of blue control decks in modern.
Blue control decks have not necessarily been bad in modern, but have always had trouble solidifying control of the game once they stabilized. This is because of a lack of efficient card draw. We have plenty of deck manipulation, but the ability to remain up on cards has been difficult. Playing cards like Sphinx’s Revelation was a necessary evil, as we had no other cards efficient enough, but it was essentially a card you never wanted to draw until turn six or seven.
We were then blessed with a great card from Ixalan, Search For Azcanta, which has proven to be an amazing late game engine for generating card advantage. Control was getting to a stage where it was a reliable deck in the mid and late game.
Now I’m not opposed to unbanning cards, the more cards that can be played in Modern, the better, and I’m not entirely opposed to the Jace unban. However I hope that Wizards understands the risk that they take unbanning this card and the potential effects it could have on the format. I think I’m correct in assuming that Jace is not as dominant as people believe, however he is going to drastically change the format.
I’d like to talk briefly about Splinter Twin and WotC’s reason for it’s banning.
Splinter Twin was banned from modern because it was the best win condition available for Blue control decks. It was hard to justify playing any other win condition and so the diversity of different Blue decks in the format was reduced significantly by its presence.
Jace is going to have a similar effect on blue decks in modern. Why play anything else? Jace is a win condition, bounce spell, Brainstorm and library manipulator all on a stick. He’s slow, but effective and once you stabilise with Jace on the field, it’s extremely hard to lose. If you aren’t playing Jace the Mind Sculptor in your blue midrange or control deck, you’re automatically disadvantaged against similar decks.
So what do we need to do to make sure that Jace is kept in check?
1. Play Jace
Obviously one way to play in a Jace format is to play Jace. You want to play Jace in any blue deck that want to take control of the game. However Jace is also great as a backup win-condition and card advantage engine in combo decks, such as Scapeshift, Through the Breach, Grishoalbrand, Ad Nauseam etc. Whilst it’s unlikely that they would play it in the main deck, it’s possible that it would be in the sideboard option for longer, grindy matchups.
2. Play decks that easily deal with Jace
The second option is to play a deck that provides enough pressure that the opponent cannot use Jace effectively. Keep in mind that Jace decks are likely to have a tonne of removal, so you need to play decks that can keep up pressure in addition to losing creatures. Decks such as Collected Company, Jund and Tron fulfill such roles.
3. The third option is to ignore Jace.
Play a deck that cares so little about Jace that you don’t need to try to kill it or counter it. These decks are usually combo or quick aggro decks such as Ad Nauseam, Storm or Bogles. They can kill the opponent before Jace can even hit the battlefield.
What Decks Will Play Jace:
Jace slots right into control decks with lots of cheap interaction, such as Jeskai, UW and Grixis control. He also enables blue midrange decks to have a nice four-drop on their top end to catch up. Decks such as BUG Midrange and UB Faeries can gain a lot from a card such as this.
What Decks Lose to Jace:
As I mentioned previously, Jace blows non-blue midrange decks out of the water once you have stabilized. Green-Black decks are the obvious candidates. Jund has gained a new tool in Bloodbraid elf, and can pressure Jace directly with Lightning Bolts and Raging Ravines, but it’s still favoured for the Jace player. Decks with lots of Delve threats also lose to Jace, such as Grixis Shadow. Bouncing a Gurmag Angler feels bad, as they may not be able to cast it again without destroying their graveyard. There are also control decks that will lose strength either because they simply can’t play Jace or because a rise in aggro decks will make them difficult to perform well with. These include decks like Green based Tron, Blue based Tron, Lantern and Blood Moon decks.
What Decks Gain by Jace:
Aggro is going to be on the rise. Decks such as Affinity, Humans, Collected Company, Elves and Burn gain a lot from the Jace unban, as they can easily provide enough pressure in the early turns to make it impossible to stabilize. If you don’t want to play Jace, these are the decks I would recommend playing until the meta finds its own balance.
So what does a Jace deck look like? In the lead up to GP Sydney which is Team Unified Modern, I’m currently testing between Jeskai and UW Control. Jeskai is a great home for Jace because it’s biggest issue in the past was that it often ran out of cards, but it had all the answers necessary to beat any deck. Now that it has Jace, it can clear the board, play a Jace and close out the game through card advantage.
Here’s an example of a list I’ve been testing lately:
1x Arid Mesa
3x Celestial Colonnade
2x Field of Ruin
4x Flooded Strand
2x Hallowed Fountain
1x Sacred Foundry
4x Scalding Tarn
2x Steam Vents
2x Cryptic Command
4x Lightning Bolt
4x Lightning Helix
3x Logic Knot
4x Path to Exile
2x Spell Snare
4x Serum Visions
1x Supreme Verdict
4x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1x Search for Azcanta
4x Snapcaster Mage
1x Blessed Alliance
1x Izzet Staticaster
1x Keranos, God of Storms
2x Relic of Progenitus
2x Stony Silence
1x Supreme Verdict
2x Wear / Tear
Some generic Jace tips:
1. Hiding cards in your hand:
Jace is infamous for his Brainstorm ability. Not only does it draw you three fresh new cards, you can put back cards you don’t want, OR you can put back cards you definitely want, but just not right now. If you’ve ever played legacy miracles, you’ll understand the idea that Jace basically gives you an extra three cards in hand, which your opponent cannot interact with. If you’re facing hand disruption, such as Thoughtseize, Vendilion Clique or Thought-Knot Seer, think about putting your Cryptic Command on top instead of in your hand, if you know you’ll definitely want it next turn.
2. Preserve your fetch lands:
Brainstorming with Jace is also a great way to get rid of cards you don’t want. If you have a way to shuffle your library, you can get rid of two cards and not have to worry about drawing them next turn. For this reason, you’ll want to be careful about how you use your fetchlands. In control decks, maintaining perfect mana is extremely important, but Jace is a whole lot less powerful if you can’t shuffle. Make sure this is on your mind at all times.
3. When all else fails, Brainstorm
Sometimes you might be in a spot where you aren’t quite sure what to do with your Jace. If you have several options and they all have merit, it’s most probably likely that Brainstorming is the strongest play, even if you Jace will likely die afterwards. You have more in the deck. it’s more important that you use Jace effectively for a short time, than ineffectively for a long time.
4. Turning the corner
Using Jace’s +2 ability, otherwise known as Fatesealing, is a decent way to control the top of your opponent’s deck. You want to start doing this either when you know that the zero is not going to be effective, or when you want to start closing out the game. Keep in mind things like how many cards in hand your opponent has, if they have any shuffle effects available to them or if something threatens your Jace before he can ultimate.
A note on Bloodbraid Elf:
Jund has fallen by the wayside since Death’s Shadow decks rose in popularity. Death’s Shadow decks contain all the same answers while providing lower mana cost threats and being able to play less lands. While Bloodbraid Elf will always be a powerful card, I don’t believe that it’s going to solidify Jund as the top midrange deck in the format. I have no doubt it will be a good choice, but Bloodbraid Elf does not make up for the decks weaknesses, those being a lack of resilient threats and the inability to manipulate the top of the deck. We may see Jund move to a much more aggressive strategy, where attacking has more value in the early game. Alternatively it may start including cards like Kitchen Finks and Courser of Kruphix to provide good card advantage engines to cascade into. An aggressive strategy would be better against Jace decks in the early game, but would lack the late game power needed to win once Jace hits the field.
I’m a combination of excited and nervous to play in this new format with the best Planeswalker of all time. I want Jace to be a fine card for the format, but I feel like I can’t sit comfortably for at least a few months, while the meta solidifies itself. I don’t want this to be another warped format, and Modern was in such a great place before the unbanning that it would be sad to see it ripped to shreds over a miscalculation. Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything, or if you think differently on these matters!